Accepting the Ampersand~

Widowhood
Submerged me into the tsunami
Of death.
Of grief.
Of a world no longer recognizable.
The world I knew…
Of Love, of security, of confidence…
Of being wrapped in strong arms
Cherished and nourished…
Annihilated.
Devasted.
A wreckage of what was.
Wandering, and wondering. Confused and disoriented. Anxiety ridden and inconsolable.
Grief shamed by good intentions gone wrong.
Don’t you want to be happy? Why are you so attached to that word…widow? You must choose joy. Make a decision.
It’s a light switch, you know.
But nobody can judge us more harshly than we judge ourselves.
So I strove to be somewhere I wasn’t. In a future my heart couldn’t imagine.
Be better. Be different. Be somewhere you aren’t. Get your shit together. Be stronger than grief. Do better.
Using energy I didn’t have to be something I couldn’t be but felt I had to be.
And then…
I discovered the ampersand.
You know the ampersand.
It’s this…
&.
The symbol for “and”.
At which point I realized
That I could be this AND that.
I could be disoriented and confused
&
I could be sure and confident.
I could be anxious and inconsolable
&
I could be strong and, yes, luminescent.
I could be uncertain
&
I could be powerful.
I could be, and am, a widow
&
A Fucking Warrior Goddess.
I am both sides of the coin of life.
This & that.
The one drives the other.
Grief drives the Love.
Widowhood drives the Warrior Goddess.
This, for me, is true alignment.
Recognizing these two parts of me.
And, having recognized
Realized
Accepted
The ampersand…
I have found a strange sort of peace~

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To My Beloved Husband~

To my beloved husband, Chuck D, as we approach the 5th anniversary of your memorial service, which we held 6 months out from your death…
I know I did everything as perfectly as I could in those few short weeks between finding the cancer, our hospice time, and your death.
I know this more than I know anything else in my life.
And yet…
Doubt lingers in the corners of my mind and pops out in my most vulnerable moments, such as now. Such as everyday of living without you.
Just one doubt.
Was I at your side enough in our hospice time? Should I have moved into that hospice room with you and not moved until I had to? Did I err in going, every so often, back to our rented condo, to sleep…even though I never slept when I was there. Shadows of your impending death were ever on my mind. I knew I was a widow in waiting, no matter where I was. I didn’t need to hear a clock ticking away the time: my heart was more of a reminder than any clock.
I didn’t stay with you every night, and that thought has more power over me than I want it to.
There were many nights that I did, and I was there every day, but I wasn’t there every minute, even though I wanted to be. What I wanted was to lay down beside you and never move. Hold onto you for every breath. Breathe with you and for you. Take your place in that bed, with cancer attacking my body relentlessly.
I wanted to do all of that.
But I know you worried for me. I know that you watched me as I moved about your room. That you spoke to others of your concern for me. That you loved me beyond anyone else and you would want me to take care of myself, even as I cared for you.
So I preempted the conversation you might have with me, and took it upon myself to kiss you good night and return to our rented condo, having ensured that one of the kids was with you overnight. They would care for you as lovingly as I could and I entrusted your care to them so that you wouldn’t worry about me.
I was told after you died that you would ask where I was at times, and I wonder. Did you feel that I abandoned you on those nights? Or for the few hours I’d take to grab food with one of the kids? These thoughts aren’t logical, I know, especially as I consider the source from which the words came…but I wonder anyways.
I wanted to curl up beside you. I wanted to be so close to you that I became you and our bodies would be one body and even though that meant I would feel your pain, you…you would feel more strongly than ever, the depth of Love I had for you, and that would be so much more powerful that the pain of the cancer would be meaningless. I wanted to clutch your hand in my two hands and squeeze hard and hold on…but I knew I had to tell you that I would be okay and that you could go whenever your body and mind had done this enough. I wanted to look into your eyes and stare into forever…not the forever of death but the forever of a passionate Love. I wanted to turn back time and live our together life again and again, an endless round of Groundhog’s Day…so that our life together would never end. I wanted my fingers to trace the bone of your brow that I’d stroked so often over so many years, run my hand gently through the hair on your arm…while you still breathed. I wanted to breathe deeply of the breath we both shared and make it last forever…not watch as you suffocated and took a sharp inbreath and…nothing.
Instead, because I knew you would want me to take care of myself in whatever way I could, I would kiss you softly and tell you I’d see you in the morning and return to that condo and lie down on that bed that was never ours…and stare into the darkness. Waiting, waiting, waiting, until I could rise and shower and drive back over to your hospice and kiss you good morning and begin a day of living in the moment and offering Love in all the ways that I could while I shattered again and again, watching you disappear from me.   532901_10152250938645400_1112002834_n
I know you would forgive me, my beloved D. I don’t know that I can forgive myself. I know what you would say and how you would say it and how you would hug me and love me even more, for having cared for myself to whatever degree I was able to.
This one doubt crowds my heart sometimes, and mixes in with the godawful missingness of you.
As we who love you approach the 6-year mark of the day of your memorial service, all that my heart will permit me to say to you is this…
I miss you. I love you. I crave your touch. If I could only gaze into your eyes gazing into mine. If I could tuck my hand into yours and feel our fingers intertwine. If I could feel the strength of your arms enclosing me. My life is so different from what it was, with you. I’m so different, in ways that make me feel like an alien to my own self. IMG_4895
God, if I could just sink into your welcoming embrace and hear your heartbeat in my ear. Wrap my arms around your waist. Sink into all that you were, with all that I am, and breathe in, again, the peace that was…us.

Casting a Double-Dare Spell into the Universe~

The mere idea of dipping my feet into the dating scene, no matter how lonely I am at any given point, invokes in me a huge HELL NO! The quantity of nightmare stories I’ve heard from the widowed community about the quality of people in that scene, both male and female and what they’re looking for…no, please. There is, I hear, that 1% chance of meeting someone, that wonderful someone who brings beauty to a lonely life, but that’s not enough to entice me into the quagmire. I’m still in love with Chuck, for one thing, even as my heart is open. That might sound like a contradiction to you…widowhood is filled with contradictions…but I believe that the heart expands to Love, and I can fall in love again, with the perfect man. Having said that, the perfect man would have to materialize in front of me, with immediate recognition in both of our hearts that…THIS.    It saddens me that there are many in the widowed community who feel that their widow experience has left them broken, and finding a person to accept their broken-ness seems impossible.  Honestly, I don’t see myself as broken or damaged at all. On the contrary, my experience shows that I’m good at Love, good at healthy relationships. Yes, I feel life intensely, I’m brought to tears by all that is real in life…reunions, watching people fall in love, commercials, the certain blue of sky out my moon roof, stars lighting up the Universe at night…tears are never far away. I live on a higher adrenalin level than I did prior to Chuck’s death, coming from the realization that life really can, and does, change on a fucking dime. But that doesn’t make me broken; that makes me conscious. Which I was before he died, so only more so, now.
No, I won’t join a dating site. But All Hollows Eve is coming upon us, at the end of this month and the following words are what I will write out on paper for that evening, that I’ll put in a lovely bowl, add bright yellow and orange marigold and chrysanthemum petals, an essential oil…maybe “future”, burn the mix and let the ash ascend into the night skies, chanting a spell all the while. I’m creating a witch hat for the occasion, black but with pink tulle and flowers strewn over it.
This is what I’ll write to the Universe that night…
…I’m a widow of 5 years and 6 months. I live full-time on the road, towing a trailer, and I’ve done this since my husband’s death. The car is pink. My trailer trim is in the same shade of pink. The shade was customized for me, in my husband’s memory, giving me courage to return to the road solo, following his death. I wear a lot of pink. Not a wussy, Barbie pink, but a Fucking Warrior Goddess pink.
I’m a recovered alcoholic of 30+ years and I’m comfortable around alcohol but have no tolerance for drunken behavior. I believe in being present and conscious about life and you can’t do that if you’re drunk and stupid. If you have a prison record, if you’re doing drugs of any kind, don’t bother contacting me. Bless your heart and all that and no judgement but I will not deal with that shit and the emotional fallout that comes with it.
I believe in romance and Love stories, because I had both in my marriage. Which makes me a romantic but not a fool.
I’m 60 years old and my hair is naturally bland dark blonde but I color it regularly in whatever shade strikes my fancy. Also, 60 is a lot younger than it seemed to me when I was in my 30’s.
God, I need to lose a few pounds so if you’re someone who exercises, maybe you’ll inspire me to get back to it. I’m a sporadic exerciser at best. But no gym rats, please. A healthy outlook on fitness is good.
What gives me sex appeal is not because I wear skimpy dresses and heels high enough to turn my ankle and a fully made up face but my strength and determination. My blue eyes show my heart. I know how to love.
I know that Love is an action word. Words are easy. I love the words, but Love must be shown, too. I do both and I expect the same of any man in my life. Tenderness and passion. If you’re the right man, you’ll get it.
My financial stability comes from temporary jobs. I’ve already done the 9-5 thing and temp jobs allow me to stay on the road. So, I’m not rich by any means. I can pay my bills but can’t afford to eat out very often. I’m uncertain how finances play out in the dating scene, or even in a relationship at this later part of my life, but I’m sure it could be figured out.
I’m unique because I’m a kick ass woman. Not aggressive, not a bitch, but assertive as needed. I’m kick ass because I make the decision every day to suit up and show up and show Love, when I’d just as soon stay under the covers.
Here’s how strongly I can love, and what a determined woman I am: I went with my husband as he was cremated, and I’m the one who pressed the switch to open the crematorium doors to admit his body. I did this as a final act of love and service to him.
My taste in music runs to bagpipes, tribal drumming, country western, 50’s rock and roll, chanting, whatever suits my mood. No rap, no heavy metal~
My beloved husband was a passionate man, an educated man, an AF veteran, well-traveled, and he loved me with everything he had. I loved him the same way. I’ll accept nothing less from any other man.
I want a man who is masculine but not macho. I hope you know the difference. I want a man who is romantic but not a weenie. I want a man who shows emotions but doesn’t weep all over the place. I know; it’s confusing. But there you go. Think McGarrett on the new Hawaii 5-0. Or Chin Ho. Yes, they’re fictional characters but the same could almost be said of my husband, because of how he was the perfect mix of all that I adore. Yes, I have very high standards. Bless your heart if that intimidates you.
In the movie “Practical Magic”, Sally creates a wish for a man who doesn’t exist, and sends that wish into the Universe. I’d love to believe that a real man, who is strong and confident in himself, actually exists, but I kind of also believe that my beloved was the last of his kind. You may or may not be man enough to prove that premise wrong.
I’m not at all interested in showmanship, though I do love performance theater.  I’ve got a good b.s. meter. I’ve heard from many of my women friends who date who tell me  that the minute they exchange phone numbers with a guy, they almost immediately begin receiving dick pics via text. Believe me, such pictures DON’T impress me in the least. Show me something real, instead. Show me who YOU are. Use some imagination, for god’s sake. I mean, seriously…who the hell came up with that idea and said yeah, I think I’ll impress this woman I don’t know, with pictures of my dick.  Jesus.
Because I’m a determined and strong woman, which I’ve always been, and more so since my husband’s death, I will accept no less than an equal partner, and be an equal partner in return.
If you’re a widower, please be assured that I am not threatened by your dead wife, any more than I expect you to be threatened by my dead husband. A heart that has known real Love only expands with more Love. I will always talk about my beloved husband, even as I love you deeply, and I fully anticipate that you will speak of your dead wife. If you have her cremains in an urn and you carry them with you, cool. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine. We’ll create a beautiful altar for them both, wherever we are, and each All Hallows Eve, we’ll invoke their names as the veil between their world and ours, thins. Maybe we’ll dance naked around a huge bonfire, with drums beating in the darkness.
If you haven’t been widowed, you need to be strong and confident enough in yourself to know that I’m the woman I am because I was shaped by many beautiful years with my husband. He will always be a part of me and my life and who I am. And because I loved him so passionately, was in Love with him, still am, honestly, that means I can love you just as strongly. Yes, it’s possible to be in love with two men at once. At least, it is when one of them is dead.
*Wimps and fakes need not apply*
I send this out to the Universe from a heart that has been broken and shredded from grief but a heart that believes in the power of Love, but also, with no belief that such a man exists in this realm. So, it’s, you know, a safe cast.
Here you go, Universe, I dare you.
In fact, I double dare you~

A Life of Grace and Dignity~

Each April 26, I post a blog I wrote in the days after Chuck’s death. I called it “Happy Anniversary, Dear Man”. But it wasn’t about our wedding anniversary; it was about his sober anniversary.
One year, when I posted it, I was criticized for posting about his sober anniversary, because it broke Chuck’s anonymity, which is a crucial underpinning of the program of AA.
I understood where this person was coming from, as I myself am a recovered alcoholic, but I take another tack on it, now that Chuck is, you know…dead.
Chuck and I found sobriety together; it was another anniversary that we celebrated. In reality, if we didn’t both have a sober program, our marriage wouldn’t have happened the way that it did.
His program of sobriety was his to live when he was alive, and he lived it with grace and dignity. He believed in carrying the message of sobriety wherever it was possible, to whomever might need it.
In our hospice time, there were more than a handful of men and women who came to his bedside, to bring meetings to him, to receive final sponsorship from him, to learn from him, and thank him for his service and guidance to them.
And they presented him with his 25- year sober coin, even though he died 3 days shy of his 25th year. I had to convince him to accept it when he did. Chuck was very specific in previous years about not accepting a coin until the very day, aware as he was that up to that day, his sobriety wasn’t promised. The thing is, I told him, we didn’t know if he would be alive TO receive it on that day and he owed it to those he’d sponsored to honor him with it.
So, he accepted that coin.
A few evenings ago I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who was also one of Chuck’s sponsees in AA, and she said to me “Do you even realize, Alison, what a miracle that was, seeing the lines of people outside of Chuck’s room? All of them coming to thank him for helping them change their own lives, because they saw what he’d done with HIS life? The level of sobriety that he had in his life, that commanded such respect among AA, that brought these men to his bedside at the end of his life?”
Chuck was a strong and passionate man. A confident man, but one who struggled with demons from his past. He found sobriety, though, before he and I married, and strove to live his life according to the principles of AA.
He lived a life of sobriety that commanded respect not only from others in AA, but from the outside world who didn’t know he was even in AA…the anonymity thing, you know. He lived a life of grace and dignity, and that allowed him to die with grace and dignity. Nobody was left, afterwards, heaving a sigh of relief that he was gone, and with him, his addiction.
Instead, he lay in his hospice bed for those 3 final weeks of his life, receiving all of the Love he’d given to so many, as they paid their respects to him before his death.
What greater gift is there than to know that you have made a difference in the lives of so many, and just a sampling of that number now stand at your bedside to tell you that, in no uncertain terms.
And then Chuck died.
And I wrote about that time in hospice, and his life of sobriety and what it meant for him and for me and our family.
I have no regrets when I break Chuck’s anonymity, since his death.
It’s how I carry the message now, when I meet an alcoholic.
A couple years after Chuck’s death I met a woman who is also a dear friend. Her husband was struggling with addiction. He had a year’s sobriety.
I’d been carrying Chuck’s 25-year coin with me, not quite certain what to do with it but knowing I’d find a purpose for it along my way.  IMG_1059
That purpose was suddenly in front of me and I removed the coin from my backpack and gave it to her to give to her husband. All I asked was that he remember the name Chuck D, and the life of sobriety he lived. The grace and dignity with which he died. The Love he’d left behind, because of his sobriety.
I carry Chuck’s message of living a life of grace and dignity through sobriety, now, as much as I carry the message of Love that he and I lived for our 24 years together.
Our years wouldn’t have been possible without sobriety on both our parts.
His message is still very much alive, and I carry it proudly.

This Never Ending Story~

Is loneliness the never-ending story of widowhood?
Does it end if we find another chance at Love?
Does the loneliness exist, even then,
Because the loneliness is specific to that person, your person, who died?
Is there ever a moment again
When a widow’s heart feels that lightness of being,
Once felt?
Or is the heaviness, the ache, the sadness of that particular loneliness
A lifetime sentence in the so called new normal?
Because, no matter what I do, where I go, how I push, how I involve myself in life, in relationships with family and friends, no matter how much I join in, engage, power on,
That loneliness doesn’t leave my heart, my soul, or my body.
Counseling and therapy for anxiety and trauma…EMDR, bi-lateral brain stimulation, talk, tapping, retreats, meditation, new environments, connections with others…I’ve done it all, and I continue doing it all…
And…that loneliness that only intensifies as the years pass by.
973 days. 21 hours. 34 seconds. Since Chuck died.
I’m very definitely not the poster widow for getting “over” the grief.
It isn’t the chest slicing grief of the first 3 years, so I guess that’s good, right?
It’s more a sort of numbness, even though I feel so much, which is contradictory, I realize.
I long for him more as the years go by.
My body craves his presence next to me.
It all feels so fucking relentless.
This feeling. And, honestly…life.
I’m doing all the shit and creating beauty around me.
And that default heaviness of my heart and soul is ever present.
Is this the rest of my life, I wonder?
And how can it not be, really?
He’ll always be dead
And missing from me and I’ll always long for him,
Because he isn’t here.
Nor will he ever be here again.
His deadness is relentless.
I want to wake up from this,
And I know I never will.
Will I ever feel the lightness of being again that I felt for 24 years?
Questions and more questions.
And
Dead
Dead
Dead.

September Remembering~

My body felt September 11 approaching, even before my mind became aware of it.
This morning, September 11, I woke up and could feel the nerves edging along my skin. The feeling only intensified as I watched snippets of remembrances on TV.
Why, you might ask, would I put myself through watching something more when my heart was already hurting?
To bear witness, quite simply. It’s my tribute to those who died on that day, 17 years ago. If they could bear to go through what they went through, I can bear to watch it and honor them.
This day of remembrance is a day that hits so hard, personally. Nobody I know died that day, but Chuck and I were living in south Jersey, just a little over an hour away from NYC. He was working at McGuire AFB and, as I watched the news, it seemed as if the base might be another target. Nobody was allowed on or off the base and no phone calls, so I couldn’t reach him.
He finally walked in the door around midnight.
My sense of safety in the world, since Chuck died, is gone.
We would speak of that day, often, in the years afterwards, especially when we were flying somewhere to visit family, or when he flew on business.
Chuck was adamant that if terrorists were to take over a flight he was on, he needed me to know that he would fight back. Of course you would, I’d tell him. And if I’m on the flight with you, I’d be right beside you.
He was at my side, and I was at his, through thick and thin. He’d been a safety officer while active duty, and would go over What If scenarios with me regularly. As in…if this bad thing were to happen to you, how would you react? How would you get out of that bad situation? Put a plan in place in your mind. Plant it there, so that you react out of muscle memory, rather than freezing and not responding. Learn how to save your own life. Or, at least, give it your best shot.
I felt so safe with Chuck at my side. Yes, I still go over scenarios in my mind, training my muscle memory. Yes, I keep a go bag at the ready, in case of…I don’t know…all the unexpected shit that can happen in life.
I was as prepared as I could be for his death 5 years ago. Because my career was hospice, death was a familiar topic at our dinner table and anywhere else. We didn’t shy away from it. We’d spoken about our wishes long before his first cancer, and I’d written it all down in a notebook. You know, what kind of service, life insurance, imagined scenarios for me.
Somehow, even as we spoke about the possibility of me surviving him, the word widow never entered the conversation. He’d be dead and I’d be on my own but…widow? It never entered my mind.
With all our conversations about death and dying, with all the responsible shit I wrote down in that notebook, never once could I have imagined the devastation of living without him. Never once could I have envisioned the emptiness of life without him, the sheer agony, the silence.
The silence.
Even though I speak on the phone with family and friends every day, use social media, text, use all the methods of communication that exist in our day and age…the silence is deafening.
The silence is in my heart and soul and it comes from the stark reality of Chuck’s absence. There is no other voice that fills that space, no matter what I do.
And I wonder, on all days, and on special days like this September 11, if I’ll ever feel that sense of safety again. Or a sense of peace. Or lightness.
Yes, I’m a strong woman. Yes, I’m independent. Yes, I can live on my own and be good with that. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
September 11, 2001 took away our sense of safety as a nation.
April 21, 2013 took away my sense of safety, personally.
Chuck was my go to person, at my side on that day, even though he was on base and unreachable. I knew he was there, though, and that comforted me.
There is no comfort to be found in this life without him.
And that’s just the honest truth~

If These Gods~

If all things that are impossible
Became impossibly real,
And the unimaginable
Became impossibly imaginable,
And what is impossibly, unimaginably, inconceivable,
Became entirely plausible.
In a world where my fiercest and most impassioned pleas,
Ringing forth from the depths of my shattered heart…
Could be heard pulsating through the days and nights of the almighty Universe,
And the gods of the Romans and Greeks and all gods through Time
Were to hear my cries,
Bouncing off the stars and the moon and the sun…
Especially…most especially Aphrodite and Pothos and Eros…
And Mars, that fierce god of war, who understands passion and ferocity,
If these gods, dancing among the stars,
Were to hear my fervent keening,
And, in response, radiate their powers into one lone energy that would shape all that is impossible,
Into the possible,
With a nod to the mighty Thor for use of his valiant hammer…
They would, on the winged feet of Mercury…
Convey you, my dearest Love, my beloved, my husband,
To my side once again~